Chapter 8: Learning to Juggle Competing Demands and Responsibilities Effectively

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Short-term imbalance is inevitable; long-term imbalance is destructive. (Gerard Sittser)

Denise’s dilemma

Teaching is my first love. It always has been. Even from a young age I loved organising my brothers and sisters into a play-act classroom, and “teaching” them the rudiments of arithmetic and reading. So it was no surprise to anyone when I applied for the teachers training college and eventually became a primary school teacher.

Apart from some years while our children were young, I’ve continued teaching right through to now. Presently I work with Year Fives at a school twenty minutes from home. Needless to say, it hasn’t always been easy managing the job as well as a family. There have been a number of times when Brett (my husband) and I have discussed whether I should give up teaching altogether. There are just so many demands.

Parenting, of course, is a major one. But so is wanting to stay involved in three or four community and church endeavours. And it’s not just having a job. A big part of the pressure is the hugely increased demand on teachers these days.

All this means tight limitations on what I can do. I love teaching nine- and ten-year-olds, but there are those other things I’m drawn to as well. After all, if life was all about getting up in the morning, going to school, coming home, sorting out the house, and going to bed, I would dry up pretty quickly.

So the last five or six years when I’ve been back teaching have created a real dilemma for me. Our principal demands a great deal from us and so does the system. The paperwork is overwhelming, and we’re expected to be involved in a number of extra-curricular activities alongside our normal teaching load. Sometimes I get the feeling that the principal thinks teaching should be the sum total of life. We’re expected to sell our heart and soul to the cause. Meetings and other demands are unexpectedly thrust upon us, involving evenings and weekends (Saturdays and Sundays!). Then when ERO (the school review authority) turns up or it’s time for reports … it’s even worse.

You can understand the pressure this all puts on other areas of my life. Sometimes it gets to be just too much. In fact, not long ago I reached a point where I simply had to do something about it. My employer’s expectations were unrealistic. They were destroying the growing sense of well-being and SoulPurpose that I had been coming to. I decided I just had to make a stand.

This was very difficult initially as I’m one of those people who feels a strong sense of loyalty, and I take seriously my responsibilities. Plus, I had a fear – unnecessary, as it proved – that if I put limits on the time and energy I gave to my teaching job, I’d soon get the sack. Actually, it was that “worst-case scenario” that helped me deal with the issue. If they sacked me, I decided, then that was their choice. I wanted to teach there, and I’m a good teacher. It would be their loss as much as mine.

With Brett’s help I worked out some clear boundaries which would go some way to protecting me (and everyone else!) from being swamped. It required a degree of negotiation with the principal, but what helped was his knowledge that I’m no shirker. I had a proven record and that increased my bargaining power. It was a case of … “If you want me in this job, this is what I’m prepared to give and this is what I’m not prepared to give.” Sounds simple enough, but I needed all Brett’s encouragement to face up to the principal!

As a result, there are certain days when I leave the school grounds fifteen minutes after the kids do. I have chosen not to take any work home. There are also tasks in the school I won’t do, and meetings I don’t attend.

It’s not easy. I regularly have to keep reminding myself – and the principal – where the boundaries are, what is reasonable. There’s always pressure, internal and external, for the workload to grow. A helpful way of monitoring this is a monthly meeting that Brett and I have set up with a senior teacher at the school, where we talk about how things are going, and decide on any correctives that need to be made.

Outside of school, one of the keys for me has been to view my year not as one block of time with an unchanging tempo, but rather as a series of seasons (or mini-seasons) each containing periods of intense activity in certain tasks, followed by times of relative inactivity. I’ve accepted that each week is not going to be neatly balanced between the different parts of my life.

This particular solution is a personal balance that came from gradual self-discovery. There was a time in my life when I tried to achieve perfect equilibrium all year. That state of Nirvana was never achieved! Not even close. It was an impossible and implausible myth!

Then I realised that in order to give my best to the children I teach, there would be times of the year when their needs would dominate my life. A school concert, for example, or when reports are due. Reducing my other activities in anticipation of these pressure points is how I cope. I can give over and above the call of duty for short times if I (and other people in my life) know that things will not always be like this.

In compensation, there are also times when teaching has to take a backseat to my other roles. And definite, planned-for occasions when rest is the priority. Our two weeks camping with friends is sacrosanct. So are the three days Brett and I have to ourselves every October.

Another helpful key for us has been the support structures we have around us. While neither Brett nor I have family living nearby, we have developed a close group of friends, both Christian and not Christian, who know us well and understand what makes us tick. They help share the load. This is not a one-way street by any stretch of the imagination. For example, we pick up each other’s children from school, have them over regularly, and eat a shared meal together once a week … plus a number of other informal supports. When I’m busy, someone will often drop a prepared meal around or invite us over. We try to do likewise. Without these people in our lives, things would be so much more difficult.

Sometimes, even in spite of this marvellous support and the best of intentions, things just overwhelm me. It’s in those times that I have been learning I’m not called to be Superwoman (though the idea does appeal!). I’m trying to face up to my limitations. (Brett helps!) I have only so much energy. I can give it to only so many things. I simply cannot cope with every demand.

But that very decision has produced another bout of self-discovery. I’m an organized person, but you can’t programme your life to perfection. Sometimes you just have to be there – a friend’s father dying, one of your kids in desperate need of some one-on-one, a neighbour dropping around unexpectedly to talk. I’ve realised that I can’t simply cut myself off from others to suit my own schedule of wellbeing.

This hit home to me recently when one friend told me what another friend had said to her – that it seemed I didn’t have any time for her these days. I felt terrible about that. It made me realise that relationships are more critical than anything else. So at present I am determining to make people (including my Year Fives) the key to how I shape my life.

Yes, I know this is going to produce some impossible conflicts! And yes, I admit it, I’m still a work in process! But at least these days I know where I’m trying to go to, and I have a fair idea of what the problems are like on the road ahead…


Denise’s challenges are ones that many of us can identify with. It’s like being a juggler. At any one time we have a whole range of roles and responsibilities, and we have to cope with the competing demands they bring. It’s not an easy task juggling these demands, keeping all the balls in the air – or as the Oxford Dictionary puts it, “…adroitly balancing several activities”, all at the same time.[1]

Juggling commitments is not new. For instance, the woman described in Proverbs 31 clearly had to handle a variety of different roles. Not only was she a wife and mother, managing the household, but she was also a businesswoman – buying and selling real estate, planting a vineyard, making and selling clothes. Then there was her service among the poor, and her reputation for being a wise counsellor. She is commended for her faith and sensitivity. It all sounds rather exhausting and more than a little intimidating. But it’s a great model of integration, and her lively faith is clearly at the centre of her activity.

In a similar way the Old Testament leader Nehemiah carried multiple responsibilities. We think of him primarily as a man of prayer, championing justice for those who had been exploited and oppressed, and confronting the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. And he was. But Nehemiah was also the governor of Jerusalem, with a special responsibility for rebuilding the walls of the city. This major construction job was his main task, around which everything else had to be fitted.

But that wasn’t all. Nehemiah faced other complications. The walls of the city had been demolished through attack after attack from enemies. And those enemies were still camped close by, threatening to renew their assault even as the building project went on. This created enormous pressure to get things done quickly. Talk about deadlines!

Nehemiah also had to deal with disharmony and conflict inside the walls. And to top it all off, he answered directly to the emperor of Persia – somehow balancing Israeli aspirations with the wishes of an occupying power. Now that would have been a challenge!


So dealing with competing commitments is nothing new. However, there are extra challenges when it comes to finding integration in our modern lives. Our twenty-first-century world is vastly different to the one that most people in history have experienced. If you could take yourself back to before the industrial revolution you would find yourself in a village or town, not only living with your family and friends but also working, worshiping and recreating with them. In fact, for most people through most of history, work was centred on the home.

To be sure, living and working and relaxing all in the same community brought its own set of problems and tensions, but the positive side was that it led to a much more integrated life. Today, we may well find ourselves involved in multiple communities. We may live in one place, be employed in another place, worship somewhere else, and have a friendship and interest network scattered all over! (Literally all over the world, given the ease of email and the freedom of travel.) Instead of our children learning a trade from watching and participating with us while working at home, often they have no awareness of what we “go off to” each day. They may be able to put a name to their parent’s job (“Daddy is a truck driver”), but ask them to explain what he does all day and they have little idea.

Integration means the achievement of a comfortable and harmonious unity across the different parts of our lives. The impact of the industrial revolution, however, has been to compartmentalise and to separate those parts. No wonder most of us struggle to gain a sense of integration among the roles and responsibilities we carry.

So we juggle. But it’s not just the set of commitments we have. It’s not just that we need to keep all those balls in the air all the time. They keep changing! No sooner have we got used to managing them than one or two are replaced or enlarged to make life even more difficult! New shapes, new sizes, new colours….

So juggling is an absolutely necessary skill for each of us to learn if, in our modern world, we are to achieve balance and integration.


The dictionary describes balance as “…an even distribution of weight ensuring stability; mental or emotional stability; a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions; a counteracting weight or force.” When the boss demands that we devote all of our time and energy to the job, we just know that giving in to his/her demands is going to get things out of proportion. If we’re to keep our lives in equilibrium we desperately need to find a “counteracting weight or force” – like a spouse or friend who can remind us of our other commitments!

We can also lose equilibrium when we give far more time and energy to a task than it merits, like spending 100 hours on a 20 hour assignment. If we don’t value the various roles and tasks in our week in their correct proportions, other things are likely to suffer, to say nothing of our emotional stability.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that balance means giving an even spread of work and rest to each day or week . When we juggle several roles, there will always be some periods where one role or another dominates our energy and time. That’s life. As Gerald Sittser notes, “Short-term imbalance is inevitable; long-term imbalance is destructive.”[2] Balance is something we bring to our lives not in each individual moment, but over the long-haul. We do it by recognising where we have been giving our energy recently, and then by compensating –giving energy next to the other important parts of our lives.


Balance is keeping the elements of our lives in comfortable proportion. Integration is where every diverse part makes sense and fits into the overall scheme of things. That’s perhaps even more difficult to achieve, but integration is what helps bring meaning and purpose to our lives.

A key biblical concept for bringing about such integration is by remembering our “calling”.[3] When our lives seem fragmented into unconnected parts, we need to connect to those parts; we need to strive for a sense of unity. We can do this by working out who we are, who we’re called to be, and how we fit into God’s purposes.

There’s another biblical word that applies here. It describes the complete state of balance and integration. That word is “shalom”. Shalom speaks of wholeness and harmony – where all things are in their right place: relationships, work, rest, creation.

Fleshing it out

All of this is, of course, easier said than done. So far we’ve described the concept. Let’s now try to earth it in real lives. We, the writers of this book, would like to take the risky step of describing our own experiences of striving for balance and integration – both the struggles and the successes. We hope that you will be able to identify with at least parts of our journeys, and that you will find here some keys for a greater measure of balance and integration in your own life.


I enjoy the challenge and variety that comes from being involved in a lot of different activities. I live with my wife, Alison, 19-year-old daughter Catherine, 16-year-old son Chris, and fun-loving three-year-old grand-daughter, Ruby. So home life dictates the shape of much of what I do.

For much of my working life I have had more than one job at a time, usually combining some kind of pastoral leadership with theological research and teaching. This has been supplemented by a number of other, mostly voluntary, roles such as serving on boards. I also enjoy playing music in a couple of bands, playing golf and watching rugby, going to the movies and enjoying the company of friends socially.

Consequently, the picture of a juggler trying to keep a number of balls moving in the air without dropping any describes exactly the way I often feel. I’ve watched a number of jugglers, and it never ceases to amaze me the skill required to do it well. In fact, some are so clever that they hardly need to look at the balls, or even think about what they’re doing!

Unfortunately life has never been like that for me. I find it hard to say no – I just don’t like missing out on things! But I’m well aware that this frequently gets me overcommitted and leads to stress and trouble. As a result I constantly need to re-examine my priorities. Am I really managing to keep all those balls successfully in the air? Am I maintaining a healthy balance between my various responsibilities?

To help juggle my employment and family commitments in an integrated way, I have chosen to work most of the time from an office at home. I’m aware that other people might not like the way this blurs the separation between home and employment, but it works well for me – and for my family.

Juggling certainly describes how I often feel. But another picture I’ve found helpful in trying to maintain a healthy balance in my life is the Pentathlon.

The pentathlon is an Olympic event that requires an athlete to compete in five military skills: fencing, riding, running, shooting and swimming. Doug Sherman and William Hendricks, in their book How to Balance Competing Time Demands, write: “As a pentathlete, you can’t do exceptionally well in just one or two areas, like running and swimming, and blow off the other areas just because you don’t like horses or you have a thing about handguns. You have to excel in all areas.”

Because quite different skills are required in each event, the training periods for each must be carefully planned. Aiming for perfection in one event could undermine the overall purpose. Trying to be the world’s top swimmer or top fencer would create an impossible strain. So rather than perfection, the goal for a pentathlete is “overall excellence”.

What I like about this model is that it encourages me to look at my life as a whole. Pursuing growth in all areas – family, employment, church, community and friendships – is what I’m aiming for. I recognise that these parts overlap and interact, affecting one another. The pentathlon helps me to work toward integrating everything in my life into one comprehensive whole, with God as my coach.

It also recognises individuality. Each of us has to develop our own training programme. This requires that we know ourselves well and encourages us to prepare in a way that builds on our strengths … and compensates for our weaknesses.


Balance – you either love it or hate it. Right now I’m struggling with it, because I’m not handling it the way I’d like to. There are just too many things to do: a house and garden to be maintained, food and laundry and basic life needs to be managed, friends and relatives to keep in contact with, lots of rich experiences to be had as a parent, opportunities for various forms of service, the challenge of university study…

Balance – sometimes I love it. There was a day some time last year when all of a sudden … my life felt balanced! The sun was shining, I had study and work commitments exactly how I wanted them. I had ample time to stop and smell the roses. I felt so grateful for my life and the composite parts of the whole.

The truth is that it had taken some time to reach that state – it didn’t just happen overnight. But it felt good because I had worked hard and had achieved results I was pleased with. A couple of years ago, my first week as a post-graduate student presented me with a dilemma. I could see that the workload involved was going to eat into the time I had set aside for my family commitments. I knew I could complete the course if I devoted nights and weekends to it. But I hadn’t been expecting to have to do so at that stage, nor was my family prepared for my sudden absence.

On the other hand I didn’t want to put off the time when I could complete this degree. I preferred to graduate with my class rather than wait till later. I was also afraid that if I didn’t do it all full-time it would look as if I wasn’t “up to it”.

I had a week to make my decision. It really came down to the trade-offs I was prepared to make. In this instance I had to check for myself that I was on the right road – should I continue with the course at all? I was positive that continuing was the right thing to do. Then I had to think about the consequences of each alternative (studying full-time or part-time). Where it looked like there were pros and cons for each, I would have to call on my values.

It didn’t take long for me to realise that I wasn’t ready for such a full-on commitment, and I also felt that my family needed a bit more preparation before I absented myself for longer periods. Compared to being around more for my children at this time of their lives, the prospect of graduating a few months, or even a year, after my classmates wasn’t much of an issue .

Going part-time would mean taking longer to complete the degree. I had to discuss the implications with my husband Geoff, and we needed to balance those trade-offs together. It would mean more input from Geoff in caring for the children after school on the day I had a late lecture. He is self-employed, so fortunately there was some flexibility for him to do that.

I tried to think of ways I could make a part-time course work for me, rather than feeling disadvantaged by taking longer to finish. How would I structure it to fit my other commitments? How would I deal with the reactions I was likely to get from people just for doing something in a different way?

So I made the commitment to part-time study. Since that time I have been more pro-active in involving all the family in the household jobs. We all get to contribute in some way according to age and ability. There are occasional relapses! Sometimes we think we have succeeded well – other times we are frustrated in our efforts and it feels like starting again at square one. I think each member of the family has learned something from the process. (“Yeah, right!” they say, groaning.)

Finding and maintaining balance is an ongoing task. I try my best to keep things balanced and in perspective, but you can’t plan for every eventuality. I am learning to relax my high expectations of myself, and to set limits over the expectations others have of me. It means I have said “No” to worthy requests for my time – and have struggled with feeling guilty because of the disapproval my “No” has sometimes earned. People aren’t always aware of the other commitments you have outside of the role they see you in. So I try to put the guilt aside.

I choose one community commitment at a time. That way, I can give my time and energy with enthusiasm. I have been able to manage more than that in the past, and possibly will again in the future, but for now, one is enough. This year I have opted to coach my daughter’s netball team – it means an after-school practice during the week and being available on Saturday morning for the match game.

I can occasionally help with activities at school, but I don’t do so on a regular basis, although I was quite involved in those activities when the children were younger. It seems a natural progression that as they grow I also seek other growth for myself. Balance in my life today looks different to balance in my life ten years ago.

I have also come to respect my need of rest and relaxation. One of the reasons I wanted to keep my weekends free was to make time for a break from all the structure and timetables in my life, amidst all the other stuff that happens at home over the weekends. I need time to reflect and to be renewed for the week ahead. I work more efficiently from Monday to Friday when I know that I’ll have time off in the weekend.

And now a balancing comment … about balance! Achieving and maintaining it is important, but the search for balance can become a tyranny at times. Is it just “stability” or “calm” or “security”? Everything hanging together well, without a loose thread in sight? Life’s not like that. At least not life where we learn to struggle and grow and then get to look back at what we learned. At different stages of my life, as I have taken on new goals or new responsibilities, my life has been momentarily out of balance, and has looked (and felt) messy. That was the case in my first year as a postgraduate student. I didn’t feel very “in control”, and it was very uncomfortable at times. Finding new ways of adapting took some time and creativity from all of us.

Keep balance as a goal, is my advice, but don’t get frightened off a new opportunity just because it will initially upset your lifestyle.

Balance, in spite of the struggle involved, is healthy. I am happy that there are several different roles I have in life. While each is an important part of who I am, none of them is the whole of who I am. Knowing that helps me keep each role in perspective.


In his book The Elephant and the Flea, Charles Handy coins the terms “portfolio person” or “flea”. He’s referring to the kind of person who fulfils a number of roles largely independent of any particular organisation. This describes the last ten years of my life perfectly. I juggle numerous different tasks through the week. I’m presently a car dealer, writer, school trustee, teacher and student – to say nothing of my roles as a father, husband, church member, friend and neighbour.

This juggling act is probably not exceptional for someone in mid-life. In my case, however, there is a complicating factor. I need to keep all the balls in the air, trying to lead a balanced and integrated life, while working from home and having a highly unstructured working week.

There are, of course, huge advantages to being able to work in this way. Many people are quite envious of the flexibility I have and the ease of simply travelling up the stairs to my office without encountering any traffic jams whatsoever! However, my working life does raise some tricky issues for me. Let me identify some of them.

(But first let me humbly acknowledge that a large part of the population has been here long before me. I look with total admiration at the way “home-makers” – mostly mothers – handle the extraordinary complexities of being a fulltime and unpaid parent on the one hand, and a contributor to community activities of all kinds on the other.)

First, how do I draw a line between “work” and “family and rest”, when my primary place of work is home and my schedule has me weaving my way in and out of both work and family activities?

Many of my friends commute to their place of daily work, some by train, others by car, and some by walking. The travel time allows them to orientate themselves to the job, or (at the end of the day) to the family demands of home. The clear divisions of the day help them to switch from one sphere of life to another, allowing them to re-focus on the next task.

But what about me? How do I switch off my “business” or “writing” brain, and switch on my “parenting” or “rest” brain? One possible solution would be to keep definite work hours. However, I greatly appreciate the flexibility of easily slipping from one role to another as need arises.

Physical space helps to a degree. My office/study is designated for “work”. My family know that if they want my full attention I need to get out of my office and downstairs to the family areas of the house.

As well, I have managed to build some healthy disciplines into my life; for example, not answering the phone at certain times of the day – though again I am far from perfectly consistent.

Who/what can help me to determine work priorities when so many options compete for my attention and energy?

I don’t find this easy at all. As with most people, the urgent often gets done at the expense of the important. Not only that, but I find administration very easy to do and so this will often get priority over more “thinking” work such as writing. The reality is, of course, that work with short term payoffs and results is easier to be motivated for than long term projects. They can be “left for another day”! I all too easily fall into this trap.

Gaining a sense of perspective on priorities is not simple. After all, I have no boss dictating how my week should be spent. However, I do have a small group of “significant others” – my wife Jill and a varied set of close friends and colleagues. I have asked them to act as sounding boards for my plans, and I read carefully their reactions to my thoughts and intentions. If enough of them feed back to me concerns about something I am sinking time into, or voice positive reactions to an idea, this increases my confidence to hold back or invest energy.

For example, my current status as a part-time student (finishing off a qualification I began many years ago!) is largely the result of the urgings of these friends. The choice to study was not something I felt sufficiently motivated to do, but Jill and a number of friends felt differently! While ultimately I was the one who had to make the choice to undertake study, I leaned fairly heavily on their knowledge of my growing SoulPurpose.

This leads to the other great benefit of developing a number of close family and friends. It’s the perspective they can bring as I shape my sense of SoulPurpose. I know I have blind spots and only a hazy view of who God has made me to be. The “significant others” in my life help fill out the picture, as well as call me to account for how I am using what I have been given.

In fact, sometimes they have more confidence in me than I do! At strategic times in my life they have given me the faith to take a step in a new direction – like moving to Canada for study in 1990, and starting a business in 1995. They have also enabled me to change the way I use my time – such as learning to touch-type instead of writing longhand, and not feeling the need to answer the phone every time it rings.

There are some things that we all have difficulty recognizing in ourselves. Lack of balance or integration are two of those things. So is excessive busyness. We have to be willing to hear these kinds of evaluations from those who know us well.

We also have to give them the opportunity to exercise such a role. I’m incredibly fortunate to have family and friends who really believe in me, understand me, and are prepared to sensitively support me, so that I can pursue my SoulPurpose in a balanced and integrated way.

How can tasks and roles that seem so different (such as car dealing and writing/teaching) be done in a way that gives a sense of integration and wholeness to my week?

I am a car dealer … and I also work for a Christian organisation. I’m sure that when some people hear that they shake their heads and wonder how I could end up working in such seemingly opposite worlds. And yet, for me there is no incongruity between selling cars and teaching the Bible, mowing the lawns and writing a book on pain, paying the monthly accounts and giving counsel to a school principal. How did I reach that awareness?

Three revelations over the years made it possible. The first was the discovery that all work, done to the glory of God, is of value. There is no hierarchy of tasks. Nor is there a mystical division between “secular” or “spiritual”. Each task I do has value, and contributes to the call to follow Jesus. It all counts.

The second was the realisation that God himself is a worker – and that not all of his jobs are highly creative. The type of work he engages in is astonishingly varied, and includes some rather mundane maintenance work. If it’s alright for God, then it should be alright for me!

The third revelation was coming to terms with the incredible diversity of abilities and opportunities I had. There were so many ways I could serve God and other people. The challenge was to learn how to work Christianly in all things – in a way that glorified God and helped build his kingdom. Car dealing can do this. So can washing the dishes.

There are periods when I feel anything but motivated. How do I deal with those down times?

Much of what I do requires me to be a self-starter. And an important component of my working week is long-term in nature – where the benefits may not be seen for years. So inevitably there are days when I fail to be motivated to tackle these long-term tasks, weeks when the downside of my melancholic nature gets the better of me. “What’s the point of this?” “Is this really going to make a difference?”

In these times of self-doubt and lack of motivation it’s easy to get caught in the trap of just “busy-ing” myself with some of the more tangible tasks. There are always files I can tidy up, emails I can answer, dishes I can wash. But often these easy options simply act as diversions and distractions, when I know I should be attending to other matters. Bringing balance and direction to my working week is not easy.

So I am learning about myself and trying to work in a way that is more in tune with my motivations. For example, there are times in the day where I generally find it easier to do thinking and writing work – mainly mornings and late afternoons. Freeing up time in these periods gives me a better chance of using the time well.

Knowing when to be hard on myself is a key. And so is knowing when to cut myself a little slack. Sometimes I need to give myself the freedom to go for a walk or to have a sleep – I don’t always have to be “productive”. Other times what is required is a bit of application – just getting stuck in.

Lack of motivation can result from lack of stimulation – interacting with others may then be the right thing to do. And then, of course, there are times when those practical jobs are appropriate – I’ve been absorbed in creative work for two or three hours, so now is the time for some mechanical tasks.

Have I mastered it?

Bringing balance is an ongoing challenge and there are many times when I get it wrong. Sometimes the fallout from the imbalance requires some drastic action – like having to reduce the number of balls in the air, or learning to say no to a certain opportunity.

For me perfection is definitely a long, long way down the track!

Exercises and Resources for Learning to Juggle Competing Demands

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Questions to Consider

  1. What aspects of our stories did you particularly identify with? What parts challenged you?

  2. Think through the following statements as they relate to your life:

  • Short-term imbalance is inevitable; long-term imbalance is destructive.

  • Being a responsible and reliable person doesn’t mean you have to deal with every problem that arises.

  • Because you can doesn’t mean you should.

  • People are more important than jobs.

Your personal balancing act

One helpful way of maintaining balance in your life is suggested by Richard Bolles in his book The Three Boxes of Life.

Bolles notes that traditionally life has been divided into three areas, each dominated by a particular activity – Education, Work, and Retirement. He suggests that it would be more healthy if we saw Learnng, Working (paid and unpaid) and Playing as essential ingredients of each stage of life. Bolles invites us to divide a circle into segments that portray what kind of time and energy we are currently investing in each of these activities and then decide if there is anything we would change in our present circumstances if we were really committed to lifelong learning, lifelong working and lifelong leisure.

He suggests that to help us analyse carefully what is going on, during the course of our life we need to regularly ask the following four questions:

  • What is happening?

  • What do I need for my survival?

  • What meaning or mission or ultimate goal shapes my life?

  • How do I arrange my life now to most effectively sustain me and work towards my goals?

These four questions, asked in this order, need to be answered for each of the Learning, Working, and Playing dimensions at every different stage of life.

Note: Ongoing or lifelong learning is accepted as an important part of working life these days – partly because of our need to grow technical skills, partly so that we can develop as people, but also partly because of our constantly changing world. We cannot assume that the tasks we work at today will be the same or even exist in ten years time. For example, forty years ago most churches had need of an organist. Today the organ has been largely replaced by electronic keyboards. Who would have thought back then that a sound technician might replace an organist?

Step 1

Divide up the following circle into three segments – learning, working, playing – making each segment proportional to the time and energy it currently takes in your life at the present time.

Step 2

Ask yourself the four questions listed above.

Feedback from friends: personal reflections in a small group

Do the previous exercise as preparation for a group session. In the group show your personal pie-chart, explaining it and your answers to the questions of Step 2. With the help of the others in your group, aim to sharpen your understanding of how you are working out your priorities in your life, and how you can make your life more balanced.


Doug Sherman and William Hendricks, How to Balance Competing Time Demands, (NavPress,1989).

Mary Ellen Ashcroft, Balancing Act: How women can lose their roles and find their callings (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996).

Richard A. Swenson, The Overload Syndrome: Learning to live within your limits, (NavPress, 1998).

Richard Bolles, The Three Boxes of Life (Ten Speed Press, 1978).